Samuel Johnson once wrote that "[t]o be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour tends." Unfortunately, over the generations, we have managed to figure out loads of ways to be very unhappy at and because of our homes, whether because we overextend ourselves on our mortgages, procrastinate on needed repairs or live in homes with features that are less than optimally functional for our lives.
Now’s a perfect time of year to create a plan for how you can tweak and hack your home to be a happier place. Here are a few inexpensive suggestions:
1. Paint like a scientist. Studies show that painting rooms colors that are consistent with their purpose actually makes a home’s residents happier than they were before the paint job. Spending a weekend shifting to crisp and clean green bathrooms, soothing blue or cream bedrooms, and warm browns, golds, oranges and reds for dining and living areas turns out to be one of the least expensive ways you can use your home to give your family an emotional boost.
2. Fix (or toss) what’s broken. If your coffee machine has been sitting on the counter for four months waiting on a trip to the repair shop, you have drawers that don’t close all the way, your dining table wobbles or your shower needs regrouting, you are incurring a little drain of energy, getting a little injection of frustration every single time you look at or try to use these items. Throw out or repair items that don’t work — stat. Just let them go.
Then, create a little inventory for home projects that need to happen, and get a handyman or the appropriate contractors on the horn and get bids so you can budget and plan for getting them done.
If someone in your home is a big do-it-yourselfer, negotiate an agreement that she will have X items fixed by Y date or you will call out a repairperson.
In any event, at least get the bids on the repairs; you might be surprised at how quickly and inexpensively they can get five or 10 little repairs done on a weekend, and your in-house do-it-yourselfer might decide that her time is more precious than the repair costs.
Same goes for situational setups that are simply not working for your life and your activities: If your office space or your kids’ rooms are overflowing with clutter, after you purge (see No. 4, below), explore the many built-in and off-the-shelf storage solutions that are affordable and can render this space much more functional.
Generally, get aggressive about setting up each of your home’s rooms to help your family optimally experience whatever purpose that room is designed for: Research how you can maximize your bedroom’s restfulness, your living room’s conversationality, your office’s efficiency and your dining area’s coziness.
3. Trick out your trims. If you’ve ever done a soup-to-nuts remodel of your home’s exterior and/or landscaping, you know that there’s nothing like the feeling of driving up to your house at the end of the workday and simply loving the way it looks. But what if you don’t have a ton of cash to drop on a complete curb appeal overhaul? I believe one of the most underestimated ways to change the way your home looks is to focus on the trims:
- Get a new door or just paint the door and get a new knocker, handle or kickplate.
- Refresh with new house numbers.
- Install exterior shutters, or paint existing shutters an entirely new color.
- Get new outside lights.
- Paint all the eaves and trims in a bold new color scheme.
You’ll be amazed; painting a home’s front door, eaves, shutters and trims can make the entire home look like it’s had a fresh paint job.
4. Purge. I used to buy my homes around my stuff. Since downsizing by 1,000 square feet a few years back, though, I’ve learned the delights of constantly pruning my possessions. Books, papers, clothing — these things accumulate as if through their own volition, and can create clutter and claustrophobia, the feeling that you have much less space than you truly do and the feeling of being trapped under a daunting pile of stuff you rarely, if ever, use.
If you crave to purge your stuff and simply seem to never get started make a game of it. Last year, I decided to get rid of 100 things in one month. The number 100 is uber-accessible, and if you give yourself a full month to do it, that can also help you feel confident that this is a mountain you can tackle.
Ultimately, I stopped counting at right around 250 items. The feeling of clearing and the sensory rest all that empty space in your home will create are both addictive sensations — once you get started, I believe you’ll find it easy and even exciting to get rid of things you no longer use or need.